Brandon Marshall, Priyanka Vakkalanka, Kara Rudolph

Overdose—defined as the ingestion or application of a drug (or combination of drugs) in excess of recommended amounts leading to health risks, toxic states, or death—is a public health crisis in the United States. Mortality rates from accidental drug-related overdoses have been increasing nearly exponentially for more than three decades. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this crisis, with drug overdose deaths rising by 30% in 2020 to more than 93,000, the highest number ever recorded in US history.

The etiology of the modern drug overdose crisis is complex, but has been attributed primarily to excess prescribing of prescription opioids for much of the early 21st century, fueled in large part by aggressive and deceptive marketing by manufacturers of these products. The social and structural determinants of health—including deindustrialization and poor economic conditions, concentrated poverty, and structural and system racism—also play critical roles. This playlist collates seminal papers that interrogate the origins of the nation’s drug overdose crisis, discuss policy responses, and evaluate interventions to reduce drug- and drug policy-related harms.